Family-owned Medline selling major stake in company to free up cash, expand business internationally

The family behind Medline — the massive medical supply and equipment company based in Northfield — agreed to sell it to generate cash for family members and strengthen the company, its leaders said Tuesday.

Medline on Saturday said it agreed to sell a majority stake in the company to funds managed by private equity firms Blackstone Group, Carlyle Group and Hellman & Friedman. Medline CEO Charlie Mills and President Andy Mills, who are cousins, declined to disclose the size of the stake and the value of the deal Tuesday, but said 20 to 30 family members should benefit from it. The Wall Street Journal reported the value of the deal at about $34 billion, including debt, based on information from anonymous sources.

The Mills family will remain the largest single shareholder, and Charlie Mills, Andy Mills and Chief Operating Officer Jim Abrams, who is married to Andy Mills’ sister, will remain in their leadership roles. The deal is expected to close late this year, subject to regulatory approval.

“There were a number of family members that aren’t in the business and almost all the family’s net worth is involved in the business,” Andy Mills said. “For years, they had been looking for some liquidity, so we wanted to see if we could thread the needle and get some liquidity for the family but also maintain leadership and position ourselves for a stronger company.”

The investment will help the company expand international sales, which now account for 10% of its business, Andy Mills said. The company’s 2020 revenues totaled $17.5 billion.

Medline has more than 5,100 workers in the Chicago area, a number that shouldn’t change significantly as a result of the deal, Andy Mills said.

The company was founded by brothers Jim and Jon Mills in 1966. Medline makes more than 500,000 different types of products, including patient gowns, medical supplies and instruments, Curad bandages, the iconic striped blanket used to wrap newborns in hospitals and personal protective equipment.

The privately held company grew slightly faster last year amid the pandemic, during which demand for personal protective equipment soared but sales of other products, such as those related to surgery, declined, Andy Mills said.

The company has faced scrutiny in recent years over its emissions of cancer-causing ethylene oxide from its plant in Waukegan. The Tribune recently reported that Medline didn’t report emissions to the federal Toxics Release Inventory.

Andy Mills said Tuesday that Medline was not required to report that information to the inventory and it has been reporting that information to the state. He said Medline is “supportive of all further regulations” and called the Waukegan plant “state-of-the-art” in terms of ethylene oxide emissions.

Medline plans to open a new, 1.4 million-square-foot distribution facility in Grayslake, which will replace its facility in Libertyville. Medline recently started moving some of its workers from Libertyville to Grayslake, and expects to complete the process by the end of the year.

Medline also is relocating about 600 sales support employees from its Northfield and Mundelein campuses to a Libertyville sales support hub, due to growth.